Authentic Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)
One of my favorite soups in the world is called Tom Kha, a spicy, coconut-milk based soup usually served with chicken or shrimp. But because it is a traditional dish from Thailand, and my cooking skills are pretty basic, I’ve always been afraid to make it myself. Silly me… After perusing a bunch of Americanized recipes for Tom Kha soup, I realized I just wouldn’t be happy with my soup without the authentic Thai ingredients to make it taste right. There are four main ingredients that distinguish Americanized Tom Kha from the Real McCoy: lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce. Tom Kha Gai just isn’t a traditional Thai dish (and doesn’t taste as good) without them. So, off to the Asian supermarket I went for an adventure. If you live near a larger city, or have Thai restaurants in your town, you probably have a decent Asian market too, and will be able to find everything you need to make Tom Kha the traditional way.
- 6 cups homemade chicken stock
- 28 oz. full-fat coconut milk (where to find coconut milk without additives or BPA online)
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- 4 stalks fresh lemongrass, lower white part chopped into 1-inch chunks, then smashed with a knife Get lemongrass online or at Whole Foods or an Asian market. Chop and freeze what you can't use now
- 6 whole red shallots, peeled and chunked Sub: 3 smashed cloves of garlic plus a bit of red onion
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 4-5 whole fresh red bird's eye chilli peppers (to heat preference), smashed with a knife
- 3-inch chunk fresh galangal root, sliced Sub: ginger, but galangal is really what makes the flavour of this dish authentic. (Get fresh galangal online or at an Asian market. Chop up and freeze what you can't use now)
- 8-10 whole fresh kaffir lime leaves, remove stems and tear and bruise by hand Sub: zest of one lime, but really won't be as complex. (Get kaffir lime leaves online or at an Asian market; they freeze well.)
- 2 tsp. coconut palm sugar Optional. Sub: Rapadura or brown sugar) (where to find coconut sugar online
- 2 lbs. boneless chicken thighs, cut to 1" pieces or use meat leftover from making broth or stock
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms button, straw, or oyster
- ¼ cup Thai fish sauce This is an essential, authentic ingredient. Get Thai fish sauce online or at Whole Foods or Asian markets
- 6-8 whole fresh limes
- 2 cans baby corn, drained and chopped optional
- Sweet red pepper rings, cherry tomato halves, or carrot slices optional
- Squirt of fresh lime juice
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 dash chili paste or Sriracha sauce optional
Put the stock and coconut milk into a soup pot and add lemongrass, galangal, scallions, cilantro, and lime leaf. When making a large batch, put all the seasonings into a nut milk bag and "steep" it in the broth like a huge tea bag, so you don't have to strain a huge, heavy pot later.
Bring to a simmer to infuse the herbs into the broth for about 10-15 minutes, or to taste. Do not boil!
Strain broth through a fine mesh sieve or simply remove the nut milk bag.
Add the sugar to the broth, if using, and bring to a low simmer of about 160-180 degrees. Do not boil!
Add chicken, mushrooms, corn, and other veggies, and simmer until the chicken is completely cooked and the mushrooms are tender, about 5-10 minutes.
Once the chicken is cooked through, throw in the smashed chilies and remove the pot from heat immediately.
Add the juice of 2 limes and the fish sauce, stir, and taste. Add more lime juice and fish sauce, if necessary. The soup should be predominantly sour, followed by salty/umami.
Garnish with cilantro leaves, lime juice and hot sauce, if using.